With the winter weather causing January flight cancellations at Heathrow Airport, many passengers staying at the hotel I was at, the May Fair on Stratton Street, suddenly needed to remain an extra night. The reservation desk got busy and fortunately managed to accommodate the holdovers and still handle new reservations.
Britain isn’t used to the cold and snow that it was hit with during our stay. In the center of London it wasn’t much of a problem. In outlying areas the situation was different. Sidewalks and roads became icy. Not enough salt was available for the streets in some areas. Transportation was often hindered. People couldn’t get cars out of their driveways. Schools on side roads were closed.
In New York when we call it cold, it is much colder than what the Brits call cold. And New York is much more equipped to deal with snow, which we get more often. This winter, according to those dishing out the statistics, Britain had the most snow in 50 years.
One of the reasons we stay at the May Fair, apart from the congenial service, is its great location. It is a short walk to the Green Park tube station, and from there we can easily get to all the places we like to go. There are two stops, for example, to Waterloo, where we head for the National Theater. We saw five plays this trip (See Special Reports for the reviews.)
We can stroll along Piccadilly, walk to the shops on Jermyn Street and Bond Street or to the department stores on Oxford Street. The museums are also in easy reach. Just a few blocks away on Piccadilly we visited the Royal Academy of Arts to see an interesting exhibition called “Wild Things.” It featured the once avant-garde work of artists Eric Gill (1881-1940), Henri Gaudier-Brezeska (1891-1915) and Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). The case of the extremely talented sculptor Gaudier-Brezeska is extremely sad. He was killed at the age of 23 in World War I.
It was an easy tube ride to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which has had some sections extensively refurbished, and where we saw the exhibit “Maharaja—The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts.” Having been to India, we found it particularly fascinating to see paintings, artifacts, photographs and film clips depicting India’s history and the cultural aspect of life in India, once ruled by Britain.
Part of the nearly three weeks we spent in England (Dec. 26-Jan. 13) involved family visits. My wife Lillian hails from London and has relatives to see, and my daughter who lives in France and her family came to London for a get-together. Our family visit trip to Hastings, along the coast, was somewhat of an adventure. As a result of the weather, after extra train changes a bus had to be provided to get us to our destination.
Starting out from the May Fair to Charing Cross station was also adventure. On New Year’s Day a holiday parade resulted in streets being blocked off. A helpful member of the concierge staff cheerfully wheeled our luggage for many blocks before a cab could be found, and the driver had to navigate various side streets to get us to the station on time. But we managed, albeit with but a few minutes to catch our train.
Normally all is simple. Three favorite restaurants are close to the hotel—Le Caprice, Langan’s and The Wolseley. We also were introduced by family and friends to two Indian restaurants, Chor Bizarre on Albemarle Street in Mayfair and The Star of India on Old Brompton Road, near where my wife used to live, as well as the Italian restaurant Latium on Berners Street off Oxford Street, and Racine on Brompton Road.
We were able to do all of this while still staying in touch with e-mail, thanks to the free 24-hour business center with its computers at the May Fair. Is that a plus? Well, it is nice to leave everything behind, but sometimes it isn’t practical in this electronic age.
By the time we left London, even though it was snowing, we were fortunate in that our flight from Heathrow left on time.